Pope Francis on books that influenced him5 min read

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The leader of Catholic Church talks about the books that have been spiritually enriching for him

“Lord of the World” by RobertHugh Benson

– Pope Francis during the discussion with the journalists

The title describes a play on words based on the Biblical notion that the ‘god of this age’ is an unforgiving deity whose primary enemy is Christ. The themes of one-world government and suppression of truth wouldn’t be out of place in a George Orwell novel of the end times, but the Catholic and apostasy element is more of a weird mixture between the Book of Revelation and The DaVinci Code. Also, there are surprisingly modern elements of near-instant communication, fast travel, and weapons of mass destruction.

“Notes from Underground” byFyodor Dostoevsky

This book was included in the collection of some of Pope Francis’ favorite books, called The Library of Pope Francis, as published by Corriere della Sera

While Dostoevsky’s other works have gained him more fame and acclaim (such as Brothers Karamazov) the elements of social disaffection mixed with alienation and corruption are much more expanded than in Crime and Punishment. The odd mixture of pride and self-fulfilling prophecy in a reclusive person merely paints a rather pitiful portrait of a person determined to see their own disempowerment as a source of personal identity and strength. It’s a very dark way of looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and drives out any ability for the man to form friendships.

“The Spiritual Exercises” bySt. Ignatius of Loyol

This book was included in the collection of some of Pope Francis’ favorite books, called The Library of Pope Francis, as published by Corriere della Sera

To this day, the four weeks of meditation exercises and reflection are used by the Jesuit order, while Ignatian retreats incorporate the elements of reflection and decision-making that lead to spiritual renewal. Rather than dwelling on mystical or symbolic meaning in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, these exercises are meant to bring the reader into a greater communion with their Lord so as to perfect their service rooted in joy. Ignatius’ own conversion story as a Basque aristocrat whose recovery from battle led to greater service of his Lord, is a compelling backdrop.

“The Lord” by Romano Guardini

– Bishop Robert Barron

This modern work on Jesus as Christ and Lord has been praised by Pope Benedict and influenced theologian Josef Ratzinger. The source texts are almost exclusively based on the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), although other lauded philosophical greats such as Buddha and Socrates are also mentioned. Guardini offers the explanation of the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ intended goal that was placed in the ‘pending’ area of history (based on the people’s unbelief), as well as other large topics that have puzzled theologians for centuries.

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri J. M. Nouwen

In Robert Moynihan’s book on Pope Francis, Pray For Me, it is mentioned that Pope Francis speaks highly of the works of Rev. Henri Nouwen, a former chaplain of the L’Arche community.

Mankind’s addiction to a lost world and its effects, and God’s continual reaching out in love toward those who need to come home, are two of the many powerful concepts offered by this former Trappist monk as he reflects on his own spiritual journey. The catalyst to the author’s journey was a reproduced painting by the great artist Rembrandt, but the application could be made to anyone who has run away and come trudging back. Currently, the author lives in Canada as pastor to the L’Arche Daybreak community.

“Poems and Fragments” byFriedrich Hölderlin

– Pope Francis in an interview to Antonio Spadaro

Using symbolism, surrealism, and Romanticism this German poet explores a vast panoply of themes (history, love, cosmology) while offering a very personal tone. The idealism and spirituality may have been inspired by the forbidding nature of the boarding school and seminary for young men, or else the passion that grew between himself and a banker’s wife. The author lived through months in a sanitorium, but spent 36 years under the roof of a carpenter putting words to the meaning he found in life.

“The Brothers Karamazov” byDostoevsky

Also recommended by Albert Einstein, Vladimir Putin, mentioned in 5 Good Books To Read According To Haruki Murakami

This is of the best allegorical novels to explain the fractured nature of 19th century Russia. Each character is representative of one of the ruling classes. There is the father Fyodor, the landowner who is negligent about his land, but greedy in using its produce for himself. There’s Dmitri, who has been passed around from house to house, and has grown up an entitled but debt-ridden soul. There’s the skeptic Ivan, who wishes to live more among cold concepts than people. Third is gentle Alyosha, the mystic and religious peacemaker, and the illegitimate Smerdyakov. Throughout are themes of love, law, and duty, which makes this one of the best Dostoyesky books to read besides Crime and Punishment.

“The Betrothed” by AlessandroManzoni

– Pope Francis in an interview to Antonio Spadaro

The star-crossed tale of Renzo and Lucia might be the sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, assuming that these young Italians had fled to the Lombardy district under Spanish occupation. The passion of Don Rodrigo for Lucia, not to mention the stint of imprisonment, are more reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo. Readers can enjoy the depiction of love and laws in the sixteenth century, or see the parable-like symbolism, or just enjoy the story of two peasants swimming in a sea of commerce and compromise.

The Major Works by GerardManley Hopkins

– Pope Francis in an interview to Antonio Spadaro

Some readers focus on the beauties of nature as depicted in “Pied Beauty”, and some prefer the focus on feminine saints in “Who Thinks of Thecla?” Swinging from spiritual frustration to uplift, and then sideways to love between peasant and royal, the themes are universally pleasing and also focus on a specifically Christian spirituality – “God’s Grandeur” is a good example. Also, the many reflections and allusions to long-forgotten imagery and ancient references might make it wise to have a few reference texts handy – just in case.

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